Tuesday, Oct 04

May Is Ripe For Competition At Darlington, Dover and Charlotte

Cathy Elliott Friday, Apr 29 1515

Picture yourself standing in front of a tree in the middle of a beautiful NASCAR garden.

The tree is loaded with fruit that looks so tasty it almost makes you want to actually eat fruit. There’s no serpent to tempt you, and you have carte blanche to take your pick. Each piece is slightly different from its neighbor, but each one looks delicious, and they’re all good for you, and you’re really hungry.

Now picture someone coming along and mentioning that each piece of fruit represents one month of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series calendar, and then inviting you to help yourself to one of them. Which would you choose?

It would be very difficult to argue against the month of May.

May is racing’s version of a ‘superfruit,’ combining nearly all of the things that are great about NASCAR into one tidy package.

Mid-month, NASCAR heads north to Dover, Del. One of the most memorable things about Dover could well be its trophy. I’m not sure which particular creature it was modeled after, but it kind of resembles Thing from the original “Fantastic Four,” who possessed superhuman strength and endurance thanks to his stone-like skin.

Interestingly, those two characteristics come in mighty handy for drivers hoping to conquer the “Monster Mile.” In a recent press conference, NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Ryan Truex said Dover takes “guts and determination.” Like a pomegranate, you must first find a way to crack it open before you can sample its fruit.

Rounding out the month is NASCAR’s longest race, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. This marathon event, which like an orange must be patiently dealt with section by section, is one of the most coveted wins in NASCAR. Its Memorial Day weekend date always provides a particularly emotional experience for fans, as we take time to honor the greatest American heroes, our troops.

2011 will be the last year the NASCAR Hall of Fame inductions will be held in May; the ceremony will move to January in 2012. This year’s inductees include drivers David Pearson, Ned Jarrett, Bobby Allison, and Lee Petty, and owner Bud Moore. For legions of NASCAR fans, these men are heroes in their own unique way, as robustly American as our favorite flavor of pie -- apple.

On Mother’s Day weekend, NASCAR visits Darlington Raceway. Darlington is a hybrid sort of fruit, a combination of a short track, an intermediate track, an egg, and a pressure cooker. It’s difficult to compare it to anything because there really isn’t anything like it.

Since 2003, when Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch screamed across the start/finish line with their cars literally locked together, Darlington has hung its hat on being the home of NASCAR’s closest finish. The finish was so close that after the race, Craven said he didn’t even know he had won until he looked up and saw his number at the top of the scoreboard.

The margin of victory that day was .002 (two one-thousandths) of a second, a distance so inconceivably small that it seemed impossible the record would ever be broken.

In a completely different scenario, at least 10 cars were in contention to win coming around the fourth turn of the final lap at Talladega Superspeedway on April 17, 2011. An incredible drafting push from Dale Earnhardt Jr. gave the win to his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jimmie Johnson. The margin of victory? Two one-thousandths of a second.

The end of the contest may have been different, but the post-race comments were eerily similar.

“There was some mystery. I didn't hear anything on the radio and the first voice I heard as we went into Turn 1 was Junior, and it was something like, ‘Hell, I think the 48 won.’” Johnson said.  “And then I started going nuts … I didn't know whether I had won or not.”

Talladega Superspeedway played the spoiler fruit in this instance.

NASCAR is a garden of winners and losers; it really doesn’t do ties. Bones are unusual in the world of fruit, but Darlington Raceway has one to pick this year

Almost every day, we hear some nutritional expert or another reminding us that when we eat, our plate should be half full of fruits and veggies. That all sounds fine, but the problem is that after the burger and fries are on the plate, there’s just not that much room left. ‘Good for you’ sounds a whole lot better than it tastes, right?

Not always. Fortunately for all of us, racing’s plate has room for heaping helpings of everything. NASCAR’s version of the fruit-of-the-month club allows us to enjoy as much as we want, at almost any time we want it. And in the month of May, it’s ripe for the picking.



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